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Monday, 28 November 2016 20:00

Auto Parts Co. to Pay $75K to Settle Discrimination Lawsuit

New Jersey Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino and the Division on Civil Rights announced that a New Jersey-based auto parts company has agreed to pay a Camden County man $55,000 to resolve allegations that it failed to hire him, despite his being qualified and experienced, because of his race and age.

In addition to the money it will pay former delivery driver applicant Anthony Sturgis, who is African-American and in his 50s, Continental Auto Parts will pay a total of another $20,000 to four other driver applicants who also were not hired by the company. The four men, each of whom was allegedly passed over because of their age, will receive $5,000 each.


Under a settlement with the Division, Newark-based Continental also will be subject to State monitoring of its hiring practices for the next two years. The auto parts company operates multiple facilities in New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York.


“This is a fair and just outcome, one that should serve to remind employers throughout New Jersey of something vitally important -- that ensuring equal opportunity in hiring is not only the right thing to do, it is the law,” said Acting Attorney General Porrino. “We are committed to upholding New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination in all respects, and will hold accountable any employer who fails to comply with it.”


The Division filed a three-count Superior Court Complaint against Continental in October 2015, charging that the company had committed multiple violations of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD), including race-based discrimination, age-based discrimination and making unlawful pre-employment inquiries.


Lindenwold resident Sturgis told Division investigators that a branch manager at Continental’s Mount Laurel location seemed enthusiastic when he spoke with Sturgis by telephone in November 2012 after Sturgis responded to an online employment ad posted by Continental.


However, Sturgis told the Division, the same branch manager was markedly cooler when Sturgis arrived at the Mount Laurel site for his in-person interview the next day. In addition, Sturgis told Division investigators, the branch manager asked him questions about his age and state of health during the in-person interview. Both questions are prohibited in such a context by the LAD.


According to the Division’s Complaint, Sturgis responded to a “driver wanted” ad placed on Craigslist by Continental Auto Parts on Nov. 28, 2012.


The Craigslist ad encouraged applicants to respond to Continental’s Mount Laurel facility, and Sturgis did so immediately, submitting his resume online. The resume indicated that he had obtained his Associate’s Degree in Criminal Justice, and had worked for many years as a delivery driver and in the security industry.


Within an hour, Sturgis received a telephone call from Continental’s Mount Laurel branch manager. Sturgis alleged that, although the branch manager sounded interested in hiring him when they spoke by phone, his demeanor was markedly different the following day when Sturgis presented himself in person.


Although Sturgis reported being told he would receive a follow-up call to arrange a second interview after meeting with the Mount Laurel branch manager, no such interview materialized. Sturgis made several subsequent telephone calls to Continental, but was never again contacted by the company. (Continental has since closed the Mount Laurel facility and relocated its operations to a site in Pennsauken, Camden County.)


During its investigation, the Division asked that Continental provide copies of all advertisements it had placed for delivery drivers. The company responded that it had never placed any such ads -- including during the time Sturgis submitted his resume in November 2012.


The Division subsequently subpoenaed Craigslist’s records, and documented that Continental had placed a help wanted ad for delivery drivers in November 2012. That ad was the one to which Sturgis responded.

When confronted with documentation that Continental had in fact placed an ad for route drivers in November 2012, a company representative blamed the discrepancy on a “disconnect” between the Mount Laurel branch and human resources personnel at Continental’s headquarters.


The Division investigation determined that, after interviewing and not hiring Sturgis at the end of 2012 – and not hiring at least four other qualified applicants with significant experience as professional drivers, who ranged in age from 43 to 61 -- Continental continued to solicit driver applications for its Mount Laurel location.


In early 2013, the company placed the same driver wanted ad that Sturgis had answered in 2012. Shortly after placing the ad, Continental hired two new delivery drivers – the first in March 2013, and the second in April 2013. Both new hires were considerably younger and less experienced than Sturgis and the four other applicants receiving settlement payouts under the agreement announced on November 22.


“Our adult population is growing and projected to increase substantially," said Division on Civil Rights Director Craig Sashihara. "For example, New Jersey ranks tenth in the nation in terms of the number of residents age 60 and older. Practical work experience should be valued, not held against an applicant. The promise of success through experience and hard work rings hollow if employers are making personnel decisions based on unfounded stereotypes about older workers.”


In addition to its monetary terms, the settlement requires Continental to submit to monitoring by the Division on Civil Rights for a period of two years.


Specifically, Continental must report to the Division on a quarterly basis on non-managerial hiring practices at its Pennsauken facility, as well as at any additional facilities the company opens in New Jersey during the two-year period. (For purposes of the settlement, “non-managerial” hiring includes delivery drivers, sales staff, warehouse staff and other clerical and office positions.)


The quarterly monitoring reports must include copies of any advertisement placed by Continental for employees or contractors, the number of applications received in response to each advertisement, the total number of applications received for each position, and the total number of individuals hired for each position – including race, age and gender of the persons hired.


Other non-monetary terms of the settlement include requirements that Continental:


-Review and revise its policies and procedures addressing discrimination and harassment in the workplace to ensure they comply with state and federal law.


-Provide training on state and federal anti-discrimination requirements – including avoidance of any unlawful inquiries during the hiring process -- to all human resources personnel, managers, supervisors and other employees involved in hiring decisions in New Jersey.


-Refrain from inquiring as to the age or date of birth of any job applicant, and refrain from requiring a job applicant to supply any document that may contain the applicant’s age or date of birth as part of the employment screening process. (The company can, however, inquire as to an applicant’s date of birth or require documents that may contain the applicant’s age or date of birth only after a bona fide offer of employment has been made to the applicant.)


-Review and revise its policies concerning record retention. As part of its review, Continental must ensure that all business records are maintained in accordance with the time frame and other criteria required by law. The company also must train all employees involved in hiring decisions on its revised record retention policies. During the two-year monitoring period, the company must make available -- upon request by the Division -- any job applications and other materials retained during the hiring process.


Continental Auto Parts was represented in the matter by attorney Elizabeth Daly of the firm Daly, Lamastra, Cunningham, Kirmser & Skinner.


Deputy Attorney General James Michael, assigned to the Division of Law’s Civil Rights Section, and Division on Civil Rights Supervising Investigator John Beauchamp handled the Continental matter on behalf of the State.

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